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Change or Die!!!

Dr. Charles Revis, Executive Minister, ABC of the Northwest

When I came across this quote, it hit me like a ton of bricks, especially as it relates to the church.

"When the rate of change inside an organization is slower than the rate of change outside an organization, the end [of that organization] is in sight." ~ Jack Welch, former CEO of GE

Most sociologists tell us that we are in the midst of a rapid cultural shift. I agree, I can no longer find cassette tapes for my aging 1992 Previa! I gave away 300 vinyl albums when I moved to N. Idaho (wish I had them back now). I couldn't get them to play in my svelte CD player. Seriously, we're at a key inflection point in world history, but not unlike what has occurred at other pivotal periods.

One example is what happened when the printing press was invented in 1439. Gutenberg's printing technology spread rapidly throughout Europe and is considered a key factor for ushering in the European Renaissance. The Gutenberg Bible was first printed in 1455. Soon the masses had access to Scripture. And, eventually comic books in 1935. (Every positive move in technology has a concomitant negative move, I believe.) This tectonic shift has been labeled the Gutenberg Revolution. The impact on the church was massive. The Catholic Church, corrupt at every level, yet powerful, could not contain the outbreak of the Protestant Reformation. That movement radically reshaped the church. In addition to prophetic leaders such as Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and Melancthon, the Reformation was greatly advanced through the dissemination of printed materials.

Likewise, the computer, the Internet, cable optics, cell phones and a host of new advances in communication are playing a huge role in the changes that are swirling around us. Add in the effects of post-modernity, multiculturalism, international free trade, and the fall of communism, and there is no doubt that we are moving through a "worm hole", as some have called it. What awaits us on the other side of all of this remains to be seen. One thing is certain, the world we experienced in 1950 and 1960 is not returning anytime soon. Sorry, Elvis fans. We are in the midst of a giant change, and the pace is quickening.

In the face of all this change, many churches are hunkered down, perpetuating ministry patterns designed in the 1950s and 1960s. The question I would ask is, "How is that working for you?" Actually, there is a better question, "Are you still as effective at reaching the lost and making disciples as you were three or four decades ago?" Most likely not.

Throughout the ages and in various cultures when the church has experienced renewal and growth, one major factor has been the adoption of new methods. The church adapted in order to effectively reach its target group with the Good News. Here again examples abound. Consider the various innovations of John Wesley, D. L. Moody, William and Catherine Booth, Hudson Taylor, Billy Graham, and Bill Hybels. Each had a passion for reaching the lost. Each created new methods, relevant to the culture, to convey the Gospel in more effective ways. The result? Millions of people have been saved from a hellish eternity by coming to know the Savior of the world.

The ramifications for the church are huge. If an individual church intends to do its part in helping to depopulate hell, it must be willing to adapt, continuously. The search for fresh wine skins is never called off. Change in the church's methods and ministry forms must be continuous. In certain periods the pace of change must quicken as the changes in culture accelerate. This is such a time.

I know that resistance to change is endemic to our species, especially as we age. (I still prefer Tom Brokaw to Brian Williams on the evening news....sorry, Brian.) And this is exacerbated by the penchant to transform the church into the last refuge of constancy in the middle of the surrounding cultural storm. Longing for a safe haven we can turn the church into a religious museum. How? Insure that everything about the church stays the same, from the furniture to the carpet, to the music and the programs, and, vigorously resist anyone who tries to change it. The result will be slow death. I guarantee it. It may not come this year, or the next, depending on the size of the endowment fund, but it will come.

But, is this the way of Jesus? I think not. He ushered in radical change. In everything! He turned the Jewish religious establishment upside down. Worship would no longer be confined to a physical temple. The priesthood would no longer be for a privileged few, but for every man, woman, boy or girl who became a Christ follower. He broke down the dividing wall between the religious insiders and the secular outsiders (see Ephesians 2:11-19). He is a wild man for change, especially when it results in transformed people--old creations into new creations--that sort of thing.

Jesus taught with a warning in his voice, "Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins...No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved" (Matt 9: 17). In this new age of the Holy Spirit, whatever structures and methods the church employs to pursue its God given mission, one ingredient must be constant, pliability, or the new wine will burst through. The old wineskin will be ripped apart, destroyed.

I know this is a great challenge for real churches in real places. But, God is able to calm our fears, take us by the hand, and lead us into exciting new days of ministry, while helping us make the changes that are needed to make it happen. So, I encourage you, embrace change. Or, prepare to die. To vigorously resist change, I believe, is to abandon our God-given mission. Rather, we must embrace the mission, and discover creative ways to carry it forward. Let us emulate Paul who wrote that he was willing, "to become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some." (1 Cor 9:22)

For more great reading about change I recommend the following:

  • Who Stole My Church? by Gordon MacDonald
  • The Present-Future by Reggie McNeal
  • LeadershipNext and ChurchNext by Eddie Gibbs
  • Deep Change by Robert Quinn
  • The Shaping of Things to Come by Michael Frost & Alan Hirsch
  • Change or Die by Alan Deuschman

2009 © Dr. Charles Revis, ABC Northwest

[This article is from Dr. Revis’ blog,]